Have you ever been asked to do something you weren’t sure you could do? This happened to Saint Ambrose.
The new bishop of Milan was to be elected by the people. Ambrose, who was governor, attended the election for two reasons. He knew there might be disagreements and felt responsible for keeping the peace. Since Ambrose was preparing for Baptism, he was also interested in who would be bishop. During the election, fighting broke out. No one could agree on who the bishop should be. Ambrose stood and pleaded for peace in the assembly. During his speech a voice cried out, “Ambrose for bishop!” Ambrose was shocked. The crowd took up the cry, shouting, “Ambrose for bishop!” Ambrose begged them not to elect him, but he could not silence them. Over the next several months, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated bishop.
Ambrose was well prepared for the office of bishop. He came from a wealthy Roman family. His father was a chief officer in the Roman military. Not only had Ambrose received the finest education in Rome, he had been raised in a good Christian household. His sister became a nun. Ambrose had followed in his father’s footsteps when he entered political life. In 370 he became governor, with his headquarters in Milan, Italy. Ambrose administered strict and fair justice. He was a courageous leader. He was also strong in his Christian faith and prepared to be baptized as an adult.
After his election as bishop, Ambrose turned his attention from political government to church government. Immediately he gave a share of his family's money to the poor and encouraged others to do so. He simplified the bishop’s household and freed the place of expensive finery. He took a firm stand in controversial matters of Church and state. When conflicts arose with the ruling family, Ambrose told the people, “The emperor is in the Church, not above it.” Even the rulers must obey the laws of God.
On more than one occasion, Empress Justina sent soldiers to force Ambrose to go along with her wishes. Ambrose had to defend his cathedral against attack, but the people stood by their bishop, and the army had to back down.
Later Emperor Theodosius, to get revenge for the murder of several officers, had a town of 7,000 people destroyed. Ambrose warned Theodosius that he would be excommunicated if he did not do public penance. People were astounded that Ambrose would do this. They were speechless when Theodosius knelt at Ambrose’s feet, humbly accepting forgiveness.
from Saints and Feast Days, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Forbidden by St Ambrose to Enter Milan Cathedral by Anthony van Dyck, 1620. Public Domain via Wikimedia.
A Play: Saint Ambrose